Asian Journal of Political Science Volume 7 Number 2 (December 1999)

The Islamic Factor in Indonesia's Political Transition

Suzaina Kadir


0n 2 September 1999, several prominent leaders from the various Islamic Muslim-based political parties attended a tasyakuran ceremony at Abdurrahman Wahid's house in Ciganjur, Jakarta.' This gathering of prominent Islamic leaders fuelled speculation that a united reformist-Islamic coalition was in place to block the election of Megawati Sukarnoputri as Indonesia's next president. Calling themselves the "poros tengah" or middle axis, leaders of this reformist-Islamic coalition had suggested publicly that they would nominate Abdurrahman Wahid as the alternative presidential candidate.

According to Hamzah Haz, leader of the.largest Islamic political party in Indonesia, the Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP), the middle axis coalition reflects the coming together of Islamic or Islamic-oriented political parties with a reformist agenda. This, he boasts, will enable the formation of a cohesive Islamic faction that can bargain with the other existing factions for a share in the power structure. A Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) leader, who played a key role in the meeting between Wahid and the other Islamic leaders, added that this was a necessary first step toward a democratisation process by pact-making.

Who and what is the middle axis coalition? Do they represent an emerging Islamic faction in Indonesian politics with the strength, unity and cohesion to affect the current political transition? Will the middle axis be able to engage in some form of pact making with other factions in the power structure? What does this mean for Indonesia's political transition, specifically a democratisation process? This article attempts to answer these questions by analysing the prospects of an Islamic alliance in the current Indonesian political transition.

The central argument here is that the middle axis coalition is not viable in the long run. Consensus among the Islamic groups is unlikely despite their growing conviction that Megawati Sukarnoputd is an unacceptable candidate for president. The cleavages and tensions within the Muslim community in Indonesia are still quite pervasive and deep. The problem is compounded by new cracks that have developed during the late New Order period. This lack of consensus and trust undermines the ability of the Muslim groups to participate effectively in a bargaining process between the civilian and military factions within the power structure, especially in the long run. This article contends that the Muslim groups must first address the fundamental differences among themselves over the role of Islam in Indonesian state and society. Without a level of trust and commitment to a particular political community, the contribution of Muslim groups and parties to an overarching democratisation process will be minimal. This could, in turn, be de-stabilising for Indonesia's long-term political development.

Islamic Groups and the "Democratisation Dilemma

There is a great deal of literature on the linkage between Islam and democratisation because of the worldwide focus on democracy and democratisation following the collapse of the Soviet Union and other Communist states in Eastern Europe. The resultant plethora of studies linking Islam and democratisation can be divided into two groups: those focusing on the compatibility of Islamic doctrine and democratisation; and those emphasising the linkage between Islamic groups and/or political parties and the democratisation process. Although closely related, these two approaches are quite distinct and reach different conclusions regarding the overall link between Islam and democratic development. For example, Larry Diamond and Samuel Huntington, who are scholars belonging to the first group, conclude that Islamic culture is inherently undemocratic and would therefore "impede the spread of democratic norms in society and deny legitimacy to democratic institutions".' Their point of emphasis is on the doctrinal incompatibility between Islam and democracy.

Their approach, however, has been sharply criticised by those who posit the claim that Islamic movements should be considered as legitimate members of civil society.' Although not denying that there may be Islamic principles that contradict basic democratic norms, these scholars argue that Islamic groups play a critical role as challengers to the status quo. They point out that in predominantly Muslim countries Islamic groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, are the "most representative and most powerful actors in civil society". In such instances, they argue, Islam can play a key role in challenging the regime and pushing for greater democratisation.

This is the democratisation dilemma for Muslim majority countries, including Indonesia. In the midst of a genuine political transition, Indonesia faces the dilemma of increasing participation from Muslim groups and Islamic or Islamic-oriented political parties. From one perspective, this is a foregone conclusion since over 87% of Indonesia's population is Muslim. Without doubt, Islamic groups will play a role in the political transition. However, the question is: What role will these groups play in the long run? Will they aid or hinder democratisation? These questions may be difficult to answer but the alternative of denying Islamic groups and political parties a stake in the transition process will be more disastrous. The art may be to engage Islam in a coalition so that power may be shared between them and other key groups in society. This is democratisation by pact-making and may offer the most viable option for a stable democratic political transition.

However, scholars of democratisation have argued that before such a pact can materialise there must be a high level of trust and consensus among groups in society regarding their political community.` This article begins from the basic premise that Islamic groups, like other groups in society, can play a positive role in so far as they engage in a negotiation towards, and help consolidate, the development of a democratic political community. The lack of a basic consensus among Islamic groups and parties in Indonesia suggests that this would be unlikely in the near future. Even if there were opportunities for pact-making, the cleavages in Indonesian society in general, and within Indonesian Islam in particular, would undermine such a development.

Islam in Indonesia

Indonesian Islam is above all else characterised by its diversity. Although an overwhelming majority of its population identify themselves as Sunni Muslims, they are sharply divided along religious-cultural, ethnic, language, socio-economic and political lines." This has led others to point out that 1ndonesian Islam is different from anywhere else in the Muslim world"." This is not to discount the doctrinal similarity between Indonesian Muslims and Muslims from other parts of the world. However, it is an undeniable fact that there are strong cultural, ideological and political dissimilarities within Indonesian Islam.

In part, this diversity has been the result of the uneven process of Islamisation throughout the archipelago. Historians contend that Islam first arrived at the coastal cities along the India-China trade route." The religion then spread inward gradually, producing a complex blend of Islam and other religious-cultural traditions in the inland areas. For example, cities along the eastern and western coasts of Java tended to manifest a stronger Islamic cultural identity in comparison with the inland areas of Java, where Islam and Indic-influenced cultures interacted warily with one another.

This deep historical fault line produced two distinct ideological, social-economic and eventually political orientations within Indonesian Islam. One is based primarily in ethnic Java, in particular along the Central coasts as well as the Eastern provinces of the island. Socially conservative, infused with Sufi mysticism and locally assimilated, this part of the Islamic establishment is deeply rooted in the influential pesantren or traditional Islamic boarding schools owned by religious scholars (ulama) and their families.

The other stream is more coastal rather than interior, commercial rather than landed and, since the 19th century strongly influenced by the reformist movement in the Middle East. Determined to purify Islam from non-Islamic influences and committed to modern education and science, this reform orientation spread quickly among urban circles in Sumatra and West Java that had little interest in tradition. Influenced by the teachings of Mohammed Abduh and his followers, this emerging movement sought to guide Indonesian Muslims back to the Qur'an and the Hadith, deter local practices deemed as un-Islamic and encourage independent reasoning (itjihad).

Clifford Geertz, a world-renowned anthropologist, was the first scholar to distinguish between the "traditionalists" and the "modernists" streams in Indonesian Islam. He highlighted the tensions between these orientations, and between the devout and less devout Muslims, differentiating in fact between the santri and abangan orientations, respectively. In other words, Geertz classified the divisions within Indonesian Islam along two inter-connected axis. The abangan-santri dichotomy reflected the split between nominal and more devout Muslims. Among the devout Muslims (santli), there were deep-seated tensions between the reformists and traditionalists.

These tensions were accentuated by specific colonial policies since the Dutch, always fearful of an Islamic threat, consistently sided with the established local religious authority and the Javanese aristocracy against potentially threatening Islamic claims. For example, several well-known ulama in East Java co-operated with the local Dutch administrators in exchange for Dutch aid for their pesantren. Such cooperation ventures enabled the Dutch to contain any potential threat from Islamic claims in the regions. The conflict between the more accommodating local religious or aristocratic elite, and more Islamic elements was eventually passed on into the politics of independent Indonesia.

These tensions also became institutionalised through the social and political organisations that emerged as part of Indonesia's fledgling nationalist movement in the early twentieth century. The first to emerge was an Islamic organisation based on Muslim commerce (Sarekat Islam), out of which grew the Partai Kommunis Indonesia (PKI) or the Indonesian Communist Party, followed by the Partai Nasional Indonesia (PNI) or the Indonesian Nationalist Party, founded by newly educated sons of local aristocracy. The Muhammadiyah organisation was formed in 1912 for the explicit purpose of purifying Islam in Indonesia of its non-Islamic elements. It eventually produced the leadership of the modernist Islamic political party, Ma4Iis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia (Masyumi), formed in 1945. In reaction, the NU was formed as a political party in 1952 to protect traditionalist Islam by representing the political aspirations of the traditional ulama and their pesantren.

Traditional Cleavages and Tensions Manifested

The social and ideological reality of Indonesian Islam meant that the Ummat would be differentiated along a lengthy continuum that runs from utter devoutness to utter inattention, and between a purist approach to Islam and a traditional one. These cleavages became apparent from very early on. In fact, during the revolutionary period, the Muslim community was already sharply divided over the character of an independent Indonesian state. Muslims leaders generally agreed that the majority Muslim population should have a right to a state based on Islamic principles. But because of the inherent differences between the modernist and traditionalists, there was little agreement over what type of state that would entail. For example, prominent NU leaders advocated a state that would be more nationalistic rather than strictly Islamic, as opposed to their modernist counterparts who advocated the formation of an Islamic state.

The inherent tensions within Indonesian Islam were also reflected in the Islamic party world that blossomed immediately following Indonesia's independence. During the 1955 election period there were at least seven political parties that appealed directly to the Muslim voting constituency. Masyumi, Partai Sarikat Islam Indonesia (PS11), Associasi Kaum Unmat Islam (AKU1) and Persatuan Tarbiyah Islamiyah (Perti) appealed most directly to the urban educated Muslims, specifically the Muhammadiyah members. Masyumi's support base was largely concentrated in the urban centres of West Java and the Outer Islands including Sumatra. Naturally, the NU party represented the traditionalists while the PN1 straddled a delicate position between the traditionalists and its larger support base amon' the abangan group.'

Table 1. Results of the 1955 General Election in Indonesia

Political Party Total Votes Won (%)

Partai Nasional Indonesia (PN1) 22.3

Masfilis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia (Masyumi) 20.9

Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) 18.4

Partai Sarikat Islam Indonesia (PSH) 2.9

Persatuan Tarbiyah Islamiyah (Perti) 1.3

Partai Kommunis Indonesia (PKI) 16.4

Source: H. Feith, The Decline of Constitutional Democracy in Indonesia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1962), pp. 234-235.

Ideologically and intellectually, these cleavages proved paralysing for Indonesian Islam. During the first 20 years of independence, Muslim leaders avoided any serious discussion of Islamic issues. Despite the urgency of the questions, such as those pertaining to the application of Islamic law on Indonesian soil, Muslim leaders found it difficult to address these issues without admitting the public weakness of Islam to their enemies. Rather than broach fundamental questions of political community, law and the role of Islam in the public sphere, Muslims leaders remained mired in political competition vis-a-vis each other, as well as against the secular-nationalists in government.

Divided internally between the abangan-santri and modernist-traditionalist dichotomies, Indonesian Islam was also subject to manipulation externally. The Dutch colonial administration, and subsequently the regimes in independent Indonesia, used the inherent divisions to keep Islam at bay within the state's territorial boundaries. This has produced a peculiar mix of potential power and actual powerlessness of Muslim groups, in particular during the Sukarno and Suharto regimes.

Throughout the period of Parliamentary and Guided democracy (1955-1965), Islamic parties competed publicly for power, manoeuvring against each other for control Over important ministries." Several regional rebellions, led by Muslim leaders determined to set up an Islamic state, also broke out during this period." In retaliation, then president Sukarno banned Masyumi for the involvement of its party's leaders in the rebellion. This left NU to accommodate the Sukarno government and help in the implementation of Guided Democracy." The conflict between the Islamic groups ultimately benefited the Communist Party and the military. As the groups competed for power, the military, staffed predominantly by less devout Muslim generals, were able to consolidate their position and emerge as the single coherent force in Indonesian society.

At the onset of the New Order period, and in the face of a Communist threat, the Islamic groups were compelled temporarily into an uneasy alliance of sorts. They had hoped that the new military government would be more responsive to their political aspirations. Any early concessions however were quickly revoked as the New Order regime began to centralise power." For example, although several of Masyumi's leaders were allowed to form their own party, the original party network was not rehabilitated. The more respected Masyumi leaders were also not allowed to ' re-enter politics. This undermined the ability of the replacement party, Partai Muslimin Indonesia (PMI), to benefit from Masyumi's original support base.

In 1973, all existing Islamic parties were forced to fuse into one umbrella organisation, the Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) or the United Development Party, and prevented from reaching the bulk of the Muslim constituency in the rural villages. The forced amalgamation resulted in a tangle of Islamic parties with little ability to work together. In the end, the regime successfully created a situation where internal power struggles and petty bickering rendered the PPP vulnerable to external manipulation and control. For example, the lumping together of the traditionalists (NU) with other modernist parties led to accusations that the latter were monopolising power at the expense of the former .14 This eventually led to the NU withdrawing from political party activity and the PPP in 1984. The W's move reduced the PPP's percentage of votes by over 11 %. 2' Suffice it to say that the inherent cleavages in Indonesian Islam helped the Suharto regime undercut the political power of Islamic organisations, rendering them virtually powerless despite their mass strength.

Islam's Cultural Revival and the hopes for a Unified Ummat

politically restrained, Indonesian Islam underwent a cultural revival of sorts in the 1980s. Observers point to the unmistakeable trend of Muslim women wearing the jilbab, the increasing number of people praying in mosques and general acceptability of Islamic practice in public spaces." In part this was also the result of the general increase in Islamic awareness that swept through the world following the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Others argued that it was the work of a new generation of Muslim student activists and intellectuals." Student activists from such groups as the Islamic Student's Association (HMI) advocated the idea of a society imbued with Islamic values rather than an Islamic state. They argued against the need for an Islamic political party. Their intellectual activism resulted in serious ideological re-thinking about the role of Islam in state and society.

This "pembaharuan pemikiran Islam" or renewal in Islamic thought led to expectations that a new group was emerging that could transcend the existing cleavages in Indonesian Islam.18 This new group represented the so-called neo-modernists, a largely urban group of Muslim middle-class professionals and intellectuals. Although a majority of them came from the modernist camp, others had a more traditionalist background. For example, Nurcholish Madjid, deemed the most prominent neo-modernist intellectual, was born into an NU family in East Java and educated in a pesantren. Similarly, Abdurrahman Wahid, current general chairman of NU, has been described as a neo-modernist thinker. This fuelled hopes that a more unified Islamic perspective would be possible.

For some time it appeared as if that would be the case. Both the NU organisation and Muhammadiyah announced their intention to "Join hands in combating the problems of the Muslim community". Joint seminars were held and a pamphlet, penned by a highly influential NU ulama calling for greater acceptance between the two Islamic groups, was published. In 1990, when the Ikatan Cendiakawan Muslim se-Indonesia (ICM1) or the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals was formalised, several scholars hailed it as the triumph of the new Muslim middle-class in Indonesia. ICMI was perceived as an umbrella body that would help eradicate the many cleavages in Indonesian Islam.

Above all, the Islamisation process also appeared to be narrowing the gap between the abangan and the santri. Robert Hefner observed that in Java, "where nominally Islamic Javanist community had long posed a serious obstacle to Islamic reform, many former strongholds of Javanist Islam were taking on a santri face". His anthropological study of religious beliefs among the Javanese pointed out that earlier converts to Christianity were returning to Islam and that there was "clear evidence of a Javanist decline and an Islamic revival in the inland areas of Java .

New Tensions and Old Cleavages

In spite of the 1980s cultural revival, and in some ways because of it, new tensions began to emerge within Indonesian Islam toward the last decade of the Suharto regime. In part, this was a result of specific government policies that seemed to favour one camp over the other. This deepened the already existing cleavages between the modernist and traditionalist camps. More importantly, the very Islamisation process, coupled with the economic development of the Suliarto years, added new fractures. New tensions developed within both the traditionalist and modernist groups, raising the possibility of even greater disunity.

In the late New Order period, it appeared that the relations between the military regime of president Suharto and Muslim groups were improving. In sharp contrast to the previous decade, when physical clashes between the military and Muslim groups were common, the 1990s witnessed a regime accommodating to Muslim demands. Muslims leaders were once again optiMiStiC.31 They pointed to the establishment of the Islamic Ban and ICM1, the adoption of the National Family Law in 1989 and the Bill on National Education, as well as the standardisation of the Islamic courts as evidence of the state's newfound support for Islamic values in the public arena.

However, it can be argued that the seeming reconciliation between the Suharto regime and Islam favoured one Muslim group over the other. Several scholars pointed out that many of the concessions offered by the Suharto regime were meant to court the modernist groups in particular." Suharto's endorsement of ICMI, for example, was interpreted as a careful calculation on the part of the regime to monitor and control the emerging group of primarily urbanised, educated, modernist professionals and religious intellectuals. This strategy was understandable since challengers to the status quo in many Muslim majority countries tended to emerge from newer religious intellectuals and reformist organisations." For example, in Egypt, many of these emerging religious intellectuals became consistent critics of the regime's monopoly of power.

These developments during the period of the Suharto government served to deepen the existing cleavages between traditionalist and modernist Muslims in Indonesia. The regime's investment in education, and the sustained economic growth throughout the New Order period, benefited the urbanised Muslims much more than it did the traditionalists." The socio-economic position of modernist Muslims put them at a better vantage point to benefit from the mass higher education provided by government. Modernist Muslims had the qualifications to enter the state-run Islamic universities and gained access to scholarships for higher education abroad. As graduates, many modernist Muslims were also able to secure jobs within the bureaucracy. This helped to produce a new class of Muslim professionals and religiou's intellectuals with some access to the state bureaucracy, notably the all-important Ministry of Religion.

NU ulama argued that this was a deliberate move on the part of the Suharto government to undercut their power vis-A-vis the state. The traditional religious scholars maintained that throughout the 1970s the pesantren saw little help from the regime. They argued that subsidies for pesantren education dropped substantially and government aid went instead to smaller non-NU groups such as the modernist oriented Majlis Dakwah Islamiyah (MDI). They explained that the situation became so bad that at the end of the 1970s many pesantren and NU universities changed their names in order to minimise their association with the organisation. Such policies, they argued, set back the overall economic and social development of the rural Muslim community in Java, compared to the position of the urbanised modernist Muslims in the cities. Ultimately, it produced new tensions between the ulama, many of whom were concerned about challenges to their traditional authority, and the newly emerging religious intellectuals in the cities.

Not surprisingly, any earlier signs of cooperation between the modernists and the traditionalists dissipated by the early 1990s. In its place was deepening distrust and mounting accusations between the two groups. Prominent m6dernist Muslim leaders such as Lukinan Harun, former leader of Muhammadiyah, lambasted NU leaders for being "old-fashioned and unsophisticated (kolot), undemocratic and stupid"." Yet, others asserted that the cultural divide between the elite group of modernists and the marginalised traditionalists was yawning as a result of jealousy on the part of the latter C Defending their growing closeness to the Suharto regime, they accused the PBNU chairman, Abdurrahman Wahid, of trying to exploit and maintain the differences within the Indonesian Muslim community.

Leaders from NU were no less harsh in their judgements of the modernists. They accused those from Muhammadiyah of selling out to the government and engaging in conspiracies to undermine NU. Abdurrahman Wahid frequently lambasted Adi Sasono, Amien Rais and Lukman Harun for what he perceived as their attempts to "legislate Islam into Indonesian national life". He refused to join or endorse 1CM1. Wahid's consistent criticisms of modernist leaders, and specifically those involved in ICMI, deepened the distrust between the traditional ulama and the urbanised religious intellectuals. Such distrust was evident in the regions, specifically East Java, and there was minimal, if any,

cooperation between the two groups in the early 1990s.

Suffice to say, the traditional cleavages in Indonesian Islam persisted in spite of cultural revival among the Muslim communities. In fact, the Islamisation process, coupled with socio-economic development and political manoeuvring, produced new cracks on top of the existing divisions. This further fragmented the Islamic community in Indonesia, producing the plethora of Islamic political parties following the collapse of the Suharto regime.

By the early 1990s, tensions within both the modernist and traditionalist camps also became more visible. For example, from the modernist fold there were clear differences between Amien Rais and Nurcholish Madjid. Both individuals were urbanised intellectuals, educated at the University of Chicago and actively engaged in renewing Islamic thought and practice in the 1980s. However, their views on the proper role of Islam in Indonesia were quite different. While Nurcholish Madjid argued against a formal linkage between Islam and government, Amien Rais encouraged Muhammadiyah members to join Golkar or the PPP so as to ensure that Muslim political aspirations were represented in government.

These differences within the modernists were also reflected in the emergence of factions within ICMI. There were at least two groups within ICMI. The first included many of the state bureaucrats linked directly to then Minister for Research and Technology, Habibie, as well as those among the modernist leaders who believed in a close accommodative relationship between ICMI and the regime. For example, Lukman Harun, a former leader of Muhammadiyah, believed that ICMI should be an avenue for greater co-operation between Muslims and the state. The second group consisted of Muslim intellectuals and leaders who perceived ICMI as a grassroots representation of the emerging Muslim middle-class in Indonesian society. From their perspective, ICMI would engage with the Suharto government, but this did not mean accommodating the state.

Also, William R. Liddle, an American scholar, suggested that a new group of "scripturalists" was emerging in Indonesian society. Devoted to proselytisation (dakwah) and combating the orientalist perceptions of Islam, groups like the Dewan Dakwah (DDII) and KISDI adopted a strictly scripturalist stance with regards to Islamic values and practices. In interviews with leaders of Dewan Dakwah, the primary concern was with the activity of Christian missionaries in the Outer Islands. Liddle traced the development of these groups to the spread of mass education and the cultural revival of Islam during the 1980s. It is interesting to note that many of the leaders of DDII are also followers of former Masyumi leader, Mohammed Natsir. However, their stance is distinct from other modernist leaders such as Deliar Noer, Nurcholish Madjid, and Amien Rais. Organisations like DDII and KISDI are much more fundamentalist in nature.

Cracks and Factionalism within NU

Less obvious perhaps are the growing differences within the traditionalist camp. In part, this stems from the tendency to perceive NU as a united bloc under the auspices and control of the charismatic ulama. There is also no denying that there remains a strong cultural bond within the pesantren communities despite the fact that differences of opinion are quite common within the organisation. Nevertheless, there are growing tensions and cracks within traditionalist Islam. In part, this has been the result of an emerging new generation o£ NU activists and intellectuals. The vision of this new generation of NU leaders with regards to the role of Islam and of NU in Indonesian state and society differs markedly from that of the older ulama. This has resulted in deepening tensions within the movement.

Contrary to accusations from the ulama, NU benefited from the state's investment in education and from the overall economic growth of the 1970s and 1980s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, NU leader and then Minister of Religion, KH Syaifuddin Zuhri, expanded the state-run Islamic universities (IAIN) throughout the country and built another 15 smaller Islamic institutes. Today, there are 14 fully accredited IAINs scattered throughout Indonesia's major cities with a total enrolment of about 93,000 students. Also, between 1990 and 1994 educational subsidies to the pesantren increased from 250 million to 2.5 billion rupiah. NU benefited from these developments in so far as it provided opportunities for children from rural Islamic communities to gain access to higher education.

More importantly, it helped to produce a new generation of NU activists and intellectuals who were highly educated and urbanised. Many had at least a university degree from the IAINs while others pursued graduate studies at Islamic and western universities abroad. As a consequence, this third generation often chose not to tie themselves too tightly with the pesantren. Rather, they sought professional careers. A few became engineers and medical doctors while others entered the state bureaucracy or joined non-govemmental organisations.

Abdurrahman Wahid, the current executive chairman of NU, is the most prominent example from this third generation of NU leaders. He is well educated in both religious and secular subjects, having been educated in at least three pesantren in East and Central Java and then pursuing a degree at the American University in Cairo?' He can speak at least five different languages and can quote Karl Marx, Alexis Tocqueville and the Qur'an from memory. Characteristic of other NU activists of his generation, Wahid chose not to set up his own pesantren. Rather, his initial involvement in NU was confined to performing administrative services for his uncle's pesantren or for the organisation's secretariat.

By the mid 1970s, many activists from this new generation, including Wahid, were becoming very concerned about the state of the NU organisation. They organised discussion sessions (halaqah) to ponder over the challenges facing NU and offered solutions necessary to modernise the organisation. These discussion forums, and the subsequent "reform agenda" adopted by this new generation of NU leaders in 1989, reflected their vision of the role of Islam and of NU in Indonesian state and society. This agenda would become a source of deep concern among the more traditional ulama in the provinces.

Fundamentally, the reform vision of the new generation NU leaders centred on creating a new identity for the NU organisation. They proposed that the NU become a religious and social movement capable of enacting social transformation rather than dabble in politics. It was more important, in their eyes, for the NU to bring about rural development and the empowerment of civil society. They were vehemently opposed to the "institutionalisation of Islamic law into the Indonesian state". Rather, they insisted that Islam should only matter as a moral force in society. Abdurrahman Wahid often pointed to the example of the United States where, he claimed, church associations acted as a member of civil society to check the state's ethical code of conduct. For Wahid, NU should make use of its Islamic.framework to empower the masses and raise living standards rather than politicise religion in society.

The entry of this third generation of NU intellectuals into the organisation's structure began with Abdurrahman Wahid's election as the NU's executive chairman in 1984. Subsequently, Wahid made a conscious effort to bring in younger leaders into the executive council (Tanfidziyah). By the early 1990s, Wahid had a leadership network in place to implement his "reform agenda". This led to significant divisions within the NU, between those who advocated a more conservative religious role for the organisation on the one side, and Wahid's generation of leaders and activists on the other.

Former NU politicians like KH Idlam Chalid and KH Yusuf Hasyim objected vehemently to the decision by the organisation's central board to renounce the NU's political role in the PPP party. They felt very strongly that the NU would be marginalised if it did not have any political representation in Jakarta. The more conservative ulama on the other hand, found Wahid's suggestion that Islam be indigenised abhorrent. They thought it repugnant that the executive chairman of the largest Islamic organisation in Indonesia would suggest that the Islamic greeting "assalamualaikum" be replaced with more Indonesian "selamat pagi". Several of the ulama also expressed their fears that younger generation would destroy the very essence of the NU as an Islamic organisation that must protect and defend Islamic principles in the public arena. Frequent heated debates within the NU's religious council (Syuriah) testified to the differences between the ulama and the younger generation of religious intellectuals. In one example, a seminar to discuss the meaning of traditional Islam in modern Indonesia dissolved into accusations of Shi'ism against KH Said Aqil, the seminar speaker and a tominent member of the newer generation NU intellectuals.

To make matters worse, Abdurrahman Wahid's leadership style added to the growing discontent within the NU community. Many of those from the third generation began to disapprove of Wahid's political manoeuvrings at the national level. They accused him of governing the NU like a Javanese king, and of losing touch with their original mission of modernising the organisation. Many of the provincial ulama also strongly disapproved of his closeness with non-Muslims and secular-nationalists like Megawati Sukarnoputri. They spoke bitterly of incidents when, in their eyes, Wahid had sided with non-Muslims over Muslim interests.

All in all, this resulted in deepening factionalisrn within the NU. The organisation's 1994 national congress was a testimony to the mounting tensions. During the congress (muktamar) sharp criticisms were levelled against Wahid and his leadership of the NU.

Wahid only managed to retain his position after an all-night manoeuvring session. There were at least three serious contenders for the chairman's post but the most serious challenge came from a relatively unknown Jambi businessman. Abu Hasan was able to rally a substantial percentage of votes from the outer islands as well as from the growing anti-Wahid factions in Java. In the end Wahid managed to retain his post with only a very slim margin of twelve votes.

Islamic Groups during "Reformasi"

These existing cleavages ensured that the Muslim community remained divided on what to do as the "reformasi" movement gathered momentum in 1998. Amien Rais, then leader of Muhammadiyah, had earlier fallen from grace vis-A-vis the Suharto government over his criticisms o ' f the government's handling of several mining projects. After he was ousted from ICMI, Amien Rais began to take an increasingly critical posture towards Suharto and his government." When the economic crisis deepened in the late 1997 and Suharto's legitimacy waned, Amien Rais became more directly involved in the "reforrnasi" movement.

However, Amien Rais did not bring with him the support of the modernist camp. His contemporaries in ICMI such as B. J. Habibie, Adi Sasono and Dawarn Rahardjo did not try to defend him when he. was ousted. In fact, Adi Sasono accused Amien Rais of " political romanticism", indicating that ICMI was not yet willing to go up against Suharto. Other Muhammadiyah leaders, such as Lukman Harun, maintained that Amien Rais's position did not reflect the posture of the organisation. When Amien Rais announced his candidacy for president in 1997, the modernist groups splintered further between those that supported his posture and those who were unhappy at his increasingly reformist-nationalist agenda.

Leaders on the traditionalist spectrum remained undecided until after it became clear that the Suharto regime was on the brink of collapse. Only a year earlier, Abdurrahman Wahid had decided to.reconcile with the Suharto regime and had swung his support towards the Golkar party during the 1997 general election. After a few years of mounting tensions between the NU and the Suharto government, Wahid finally bowed to pressures from within the organisation to smoothen out relations with the ex-president. As a consequence, Wahid and other NU leaders found it difficult to respond effectively to the mounting crises at the national level. Despite calls from students associated with the NU, the latter's central board avoided any direct confrontation with the Suharto regime.

The problem was compounded by Wahid's own illness in early 1997. The inability of Wahid to manage his organisation during those few crucial months led to at least three responses from NU with regards to the "reformasi" movement. Wahid's more loyal supporters like Rozy Munir and KH Said AqiI preferred a cautious "wait-and-see" approach. Meanwhile, the more senior ulama in the provinces insisted on continued support for Suharto while the newer generation and younger activists criticised NU's indecision and called for an embrace of "Reformasi". Up until the eve of Suharto's resignation, the position of the NU's central board was not clear. Just a month before the

ex-president resigned, Wahid had thrown several wild accusations at the students only to have his statement retracted a week later by the central board.6.

The split between the traditionalist and modernists groups, as well as the deepening tensions within each, prevented the formation of a united Islamic opposition against the New Order administration. The personal rivalry between Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid did not help the prospects of an alliance against Suharto, even when it had become increasingly obvious that Suharto's days were numbered. Ultimately, the fragmentation of the Indonesian Muslim community obstructed all efforts at the formation of an Islamic coalition during the critical months of November 1997 to January 1998. Muslim groups, other than the person of Amien Rais, lost the opportunity to propel Islam to the forefront of the "reformasi" movement.

Islamic Political Parties on the Eve of the June 1999 Elections

By January 1999, a plethora of political parties had emerged onto the Indonesian political scene including over 19 Islamic political parties. Two other parties, the Nation Awakening Party or Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKB) led by Abdurrahman Wahid and the National Mandate Party or Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN) led by Amien Rais adopted a more reformist-nationalist stance. However, their basic constituencies were still predominantly Muslim, and like the other Islamic parties, they appealed either to the traditionalist or the modernist camps in Indonesian Islam.

There were five political parties that appealed directly to the traditionalist NU constituency. The PKB was among the first to form after several key ulama argued in favour of a political arm for the NU, and Abdurrahman Wahid finally agreed to the proposal. Wahid insisted that the party adopt an open nationalistic platform and appointed Mathori Abdul Jalil as the party's chairman. Following the party's formation in July 1998, observers were confident that the party would at least be able to replicate its 1955 electoral percentage gain of about 18%. Wahid himself was optimistic that the party, backed by his NU constituency, would be powerful enough to gamer close to 35 % of the votes.

This euphoria did not last long. By early 1999, there were three other NU-based political parties. The National Solidarity Party of Indonesia or Solidaritas Uni Nasinal Indonesia (SUNI) emerged just a month after the PKB was formed. Led by Abu Hasan, SUNI was seen as a representation of the non-Javanese NU constituency, notably those who had joined Abu Hasan in the 1994 attempt to challenge Wahid for the organisation's chairmanship. Following SUNI came the announcement of a third NU party, the Revival of the Ummah party or Partai Nahdlatul Ummat (PNU), led by an NU proselytisation organisation determined to channel NU energies back toward enacting Islamic principles in the public arena. Finally, the Awakening of the Ummat party or Partai Kebangkitan Ummat (PKU) was formed in late 1998 by Abdurrahman Wahid's own brother and uncle, Salahuddin Wahid and KH Yusuf Hasyim respectively. Critical of Wahid's leadership of the NU, KH Yusuf Hasyim insisted that another party was necessary for the "implementation of Islamic principles into state law and represent the majority of NU members marginalised by Wahid's undemocratic ways".

The United Development Party or Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) straddled a delicate position between the modernist and the traditionalist constituencies. At its formation in the 1970s, the party was intended to represent all Islamic political parties. After the NU withdrew from the party, the PPP represented a loose coalition of smaller parties, none of which had a solid footing among the traditionalists. In the aftermath of Suharto's resignation, however, the PPP was quick to reassert its Islamic credentials. It reinstated its Islamic symbol and appointed Hamzah Haz, an NU person, as its leader. With an NU-based leader, the PPP was able to attract several other NU activists and intellectuals, disillusioned with Abdurrahman Wahid, to its fold.

It is important to note, that the PPP is the only Islamic party that. has the institutional strength of an established and experienced political party. It served as an opposition party throughout the Suharto regime (1966-1998). It has a group of experienced MPs in its top leadership and many more party cadres in provincial and local assemblies. The PPP is also the only Islamic party well established in both Java and the Outer Islands. For example, the PPP has a strong following in West Java as well as in Aceh. The entry of NU members into the PPP can be expected to bolster the party's overall strength.

There were more than ten political parties appealing either directly or indirectly to the modernist constituency. These included overtly modernist-oriented parties like Perti, PSII, Masyumi, Masyumi Baru, PUI and Partai Bulan Bintang (PBB) led by Yusril lhzra Mahendra. All these parties appealed most directly to the Muhammadiyah constituency. Several had links or followed the position of ex-Masyumi leaders such as Mohammed Natsir. Yusril. Mahendra of the P13B, for example, justified the formation of his party by insisting that it was the rightful successor to the original Masyumi party of the 1950s. Ironically, both the Masyumi party and the Masyumi Baru also insisted on the same thing.

The Justice Party or Parlai Keadilan (PK), on the other hand, reflected the growing differences that have emerged as a result of the recent cultural revival of Islam in Indonesia. The leader of the party, Nur Mahmud Ismail, is an engineer at BPPT (the Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology). He was educated at one of the top Indonesian universities and was sent on scholarship to do post-graduate work in the United States. Well-educated and urbanised, Nur Mahmud Ismail and his contemporaries joined ICM1 in the 1990s. However, unhappy with the prevailing attitude toward Islam within the association, they decided to engage in more rigorous Islamic cadre training activities modelled along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Justice Party sees itself simply as an extension of the group's activities. Its leaders and members are extremely dedicated toward purifying Islam from within. They perceive the election simply as another opportunity to recruit members and promote their agenda .


Perhaps the most interesting development from within this plethora of Islamic political parties has been the formation of PAN under the leadership of Amien Rais. It has been argued that PAN "is a phenomenon outside aliran politics"." This is because PAN's membership is bas e'd on religio-ethnic pluralism and a reform agenda. It opposes the dual function concept of the military, insists on constitutional affiendments and the creation of a federal state. Its leadership consists of Islamic, Christian, Chinese and other secular leaders and activists. For these reasons there were expectations that PAN would emerge as the second or third largest party during the June 1999 election. PAN also did well during the campaign period. Seemingly supported by its basic Muhammadiyah constituency, PAN campaigns were impressive shows in the major cities, often second only to Megawati's Partai Demokrasi Indonesia - Perjuangan (PDI-P) campaigns.

Ironically, PAN's emergence further weakened the modernist Muslim camp. Rais's leadership of PAN meant that the modernists were left without an effective leader. The Muhammadiyah constituency became thinly dispersed between PAN, Golkar, PPP, PBB and PK. The election results eventually reflected the extent to which the ffiodernist and traditionalist camps were internally divided. The fragmentation of the community ultimately benefited the non-Muslim parties like the P131-P and Golkar.

Indonesian Islam in the Aftermath of the June Elections

Above all, the June 7th election results indicated that once again, the continued fragmentation within Indonesian Islam undermined the overall bargaining position of Islamic political parties at the national level. The splintering of political parties appealing directly or indirectly for Muslim votes resulted in a decrease in the overall votes going to Islamic political parties. Of the percentage of votes going to the four largest political parties to emerge after the elections, only 23.47% went to Islamic or NU-oriented parties (PKB and PPP). Even if the votes for all the major Islamic political parties were combined, the Muslim vote amounted to only about 35.06% of the votes (PKB, PPP, PAN, PBB, PK, PNU, PKU, PSI1) compared to 43.9% in 1955 (NU, Masyumi, PSII, Pd PPTI and AKU1). The votes appeared to go instead to the secular~nationalists, With the PDI-P and Golkar combined total of 56.58%.

Table 2. Results of June 7th 1999 General Election in Indonesia Major Political Actual Percentage Distribution of Percentage based

Parties of Votes Dewan Perwakilan Scat Distribution

Rakyat Seats

Partai Demokrasi

Indonesia Perjuangan 33.98 154 Approx 22%


Golongan Karya 22.4 120 17.14%


Partai Persatuan 10.69 59 8.42%

Pembangunan (PPP)

Partai Kebangkitan 12.78 51 7.28%

Bangsa (PKB)

Partai Amanat

National (PAN)

7.16 34 5.00%

Source: Panitia Pemilihan Umum Indonesia, July 15 1999.

The election results, in which Amien Rais's pluralistic PAN obtained only 7.16%, also showed that aliran politics, in so far as it meant choosing one ideological stream over another (abangan versus santri), was still very much alive in Indonesia. Amien Rais's embrace of an all-encompassing pluralism was not well received by his Muslim constituents. They saw him as a traitor who had abandoned his earlier fight for Islamic representation in government. For the non-Muslims, Arnien Rais's reformist agenda was still too new to be trusted. In the end, PAN suffered a devastating defeat during the general elections.

The electoral competition between PKB and the PPP, as well as the election results for the two, was yet another indicator how traditional cleavages in Indonesian Islam remained entrenched. During the campaign period the most violent incidences came from physical clashes between PKB and PPP supporters. In Pekalongan and Jepara,

clashes between supporters of the two parties resulted in extensive property damage and the loss of lives. On the surface the clashes pitted the Islamic PPP versus the secular nationalist PKB, However, at the grassroots level it was more a clash between supporters of Abdurrahman Wahid and supporters of ulanta opposed to Wahid's agenda.

The election results made it clear that the Java-Outer Island tensions as well as the rural-urban divide split the votes between the PKB and the PPP. The PKB maintained its dominance in the East Java area. It lost out to the PPP only in Sampang, Madura, where the prolific KH Alawy Muhammad continued his support for the PPP. PKB's loss to the PDI-P in the Mataraman areas was not surprising either since these were never NU strongholds. However, the PKB's poor performance in Jombang, where it lost to the PDI-P, and in Probolinggo, where it very nearly lost to the PPP, might be a reflection of the effects of divisions within the NU constituency between PKB, PNU, PKU and PPP.

PKB's performance in Central Java declined from 23% in 1971 to 17% in 1999. This was largely a result of the PDI-P's dominance in the inland areas and the PPP's strength in the northern coastal regions. In West Java, the PKIl's votes dropped from 13% to 7%. But it was in the Outer Islands and the urban areas that the PPP and the other parties were able to dominate over the' PKB. In 19 out of the 25 provinces outside Java, PKB's votes dropped below 5%. In Sumatra, the PKB was unable to compete with the PPP at all. For example, in Aceh, the PPP garnered 29% of the votes while the PKB was unable to manage even a dismal 1 %. According to PKB officials, this was because they were unable to recruit the PPP kyai from the Outer Islands. Also, traditionally, the PPP has enjoyed a strong position in these provinces. Nevertheless, the weak performance of the PKB in the Outer Islands reflected the Java/non-Java divide among the Islamic groups in Indonesia.

The Prospects for a Middle-Axis Coalition

In many ways, and despite the euphoria, the June general elections proved to be a baby step in Indonesia's political transition. The overall elections results produced four main aliran-style parties - PD1-P, Golkar, PPP and PKB. None of the parties was able to win a substantial majority to form the next government. This meant, that coalition style politics would prevail for the immediate future. Various coalition scenarios have been forwarded including a reformist coalition of the I'DI-P, PKB, and PAN with a total of 360 out of the 700 seats in the People's Consultative Assembly or Maflis Perwakilan Rakyat (MPR). Another possibility would be the Golkar coalition combining the party's 120 seats with that of the other Islamic parties (PPP, P11B, PK, PNU, PKU and PS11), This would give the coalition a 28.97% Share in the 700 seat MPR. Then there is the possibility of a Golkar-PI)I-P coalition. If this coalition materialises, there would be a large enough majority in the MPR (39.14%) to sideline the other smaller parties as well as the military faction with their 38 seats.

The final possibility is a coalition of all the Islamic or Islamic-based political parties, including the PKB and ' PAN, with a total of 24.14% or 177 seats in the MPR. This is the middle axis or "Poros tengah" led by Amien Rais. This coalition has largely come about as a reaction against Megawati's presidency. For several Islamic political parties in the "poros tengah" a woman candidate for the presidency is unacceptable. 1 For others like Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid, the P131~P and Megawati's refusal to enter into coalition-building negotiations has been frustrating. This has prompted them to take a stand against her.

Table 3. Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Seats Distribution

for the Middle Axis Coalition, June 1999

Political Party No. of Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Seats

Partai Persatuan Pembangunan (PPP) 59

Partai Kebangkitan Bangsa (PKM) 51

Partai Amanat Nasional (PAN) 34

Partai Bulan Bintang (PBB) 13

Partai Keadilan (PK) 7

Partai Nahdlatul Unmat (PN19 5

Partai Sarikat Islam Indonesia (PSH) 1

Partai Persatuan Islam

Indonesia-Masyumi (PPII-Masyumi) 1

Partai Kebangkitan Ummidt (PKU) 1

Source: Tempo, 12 September, 1999.

In early August 1999, this coalition was not considered a likely possibility since the relationship between Amien Rais and Abdurrahman Wahid was strained at best. The conflict between the traditionalists and modernists appeared quite entrenched with the other Islamic parties reluctant to work with Abdurrahman Wahid. Hamzah Haz, the PPP leader, was more in favour of supporting Habibie for the presidency rather than Wahid. In addition, PKIl's official chairman, Mathori Abdul Jalil, had openly declared that the party would back Megawati as president at all costs. Finally, the long friendship between Megawati and Abdurrahman Wahid was also a well-known fact. Many felt that Wahid would not abandon her in favour of a coalition of Islamic political parties.

By the end of the month, however, new developments had swung the pendulum the other way. The Bank Bali scandal was slowly but surely undermining the credibility -Colkar. Then, the referendum offer to the East Timorese of the Habibie faction within led to an overwhelming vote for independence, and an even more unprecedented reaction from the pro-Jakarta militia. By the time the UN Special Forces arrived in East Timor, the Habibie government was facing yet another legitimacy crisis. This created a dilemma for the Islamic parties opposed to Megawati's presidency. According to Harnzah Haz, their support for Habib~e was becoming less and less likely as a result of these two developments. This eventually led him to pay a visit to Abdurrahman Wahid at the end of August.

Several Muhammadiyah leaders also visited Wahid at his home in Ciganjur, culminating with a closed-door meeting between Amien Rais and Wahid to discuss the future of the Indonesian nation on 30 August, 1999. This was followed a few days later with the tasykuran ceremony at Wahid's home attended by leaders from PAN, PKB, PBB, PK, PSII and PPP. It was then that Amien Rais announced the middle axis coalition's nomination of Wahid as their presidential candidate. Wahid kept silent initially but finally announced his willingness to run against Habibie and Megawati if asked to do so.

From an unlikely coalition, the middle axis has emerged as a potential player in deciding the fate of the next Indonesian government. The middle axis, helped in large part by Abdurrahman Wahid's decision to support them, managed to get Amien Rais elected to the position of the MPR speaker. They are also confident that if they can persuade members of Golkar to swing in their favour, the strength of the coalition would enable the Islamic faction to decide the direction of the next government. According to Harnzah Haz, all "poros tengah" needs is to persuade the Golkar factions to their side.

Does this mean that a cohesive Islamic coalition is indeed in the works? Despite the appearance of unity within the middle axis, this coalition will not last beyond the immediate focus of blocking Megawati's ascent to the presidential palace. This article has tried to show that the cleavages and tensions within Indonesia Islam remain far too pervasive to allow for a long-term coalition between the various Islamic political parties. The modernist-traditionalist divide, with the concomitant conflicts between Java/nonJava and the rural-urban communities, will continue to undermine any cooperation between them.

This has serious implications for the political transition in Indonesia, particularly a democratisation process. Without a basic consensus on what political community they want, Indonesians cannot move toward democratisation. Resolving some of the conflicts within Indonesian society, including the differences and tensions among Islamic groups, may be a necessary first step. But, as the evidence in this article suggests, this will be a long process. For the political transition thus far, the instability of an Islamic-led coalition may undermine the overall efficiency of the next government. A political environment of shaky coalitions, possible re-elections and constant manoeuvrings does not augur well for Indonesia's political and economic development in the near future.